Councils must consider equality laws when changing services

The Equality Framework for Local Government (EFLG) has been launched to help councils to continue to consider the impact that their policies on areas such as education have on the people who live and work in their area, and meet their wider requirements under equalities legislation.

The Social Housing Equality Framework (SHEF) will help councils and housing associations ensure that appropriate housing is provided to vulnerable people in their communities. Previously, they allocated housing based upon need, but are now being given greater freedom to shape allocations around local priorities. Some have indicated a desire to allocate housing to army veterans, while others are looking to prioritise those in work or doing community volunteering.

Changes to housing allocation plans that have the net effect of negatively impacting on those with protected characteristics, such as disability, race or age, may well be against equality laws, and would be subject to a legal challenge. Councils can request a peer review and challenge to ensure that they meet the requirements of the SHEF guidance. If a peer review team agrees that the required level has been met, then the council will be awarded a SHEF recognition award.

Cllr David Sparks, Vice-chair of the LGA, said:

"The equality frameworks can help ensure that councils not only provide high quality local services, but also ensure that local people are placed at the centre of decision making.

"Public bodies are rightfully bound by provisions within equalities legislation and local government wants to avoid legal challenges and protect the needs of vulnerable people.

"I urge councils to use the frameworks as a tool to promote equality and assist with compliance to the law."

In addition to housing, other policies such as schooling and public health outcomes will need to be actively considered when delivering more locally driven services. It is clear that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to services will no longer be enough to be compliant with the rules around promoting equality.

Given that a ‘lighter approach’ to regulation and inspection is being introduced, the LGA is urging councils, housing associations and private landlords to use the SHEF and EFLG guidance as part of their self-assessment. The guidance has been designed to help mainstream the importance of equality and diversity and will help councils maintain momentum on this issue.

The Public Sector Equality Duty, within The Equality Act 2010, requires councils to seek to eliminate unlawful discrimination and victimisation, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between those who share a protected characteristic and those who don’t. The protected characteristics under the law are: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

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